Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Response to ‘Rich People Give Less’: Cultivate a New and Inclusive Culture of Philanthropy

Donation Bowls (Photo Credit)
Last week, we received a two dollar donation from one of our loyal supporters. My initial reaction when I opened the envelope was, “Wow, this donor went through a lot of effort to write a check, purchase a stamp, and put it in the mail for just two dollars!” I took another look at the shaky handwriting and the loopy signature, remembering that this two dollar check means something beyond the monetary amount. This individual took the time to write a check to the Charities Review Council, most likely from a fixed income. We want to build a culture of philanthropy that celebrates every gift, no matter how small.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently conducted a study that outlines giving patterns based on state, neighborhood, household, political association, and income. The key conclusion of the study is that wealthy donors give away a smaller share of their income than everyday middle-class Americans. Households that earn $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of their income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent given to charity by people who earn $100,000 or more. As we seek to build a philanthropic culture across socioeconomic boundaries, what does this data mean?

According to the Huffington Post’s review of the Chronicle of Philanthropy study, “rich people apparently care less about the less fortunate than their middle-class counterparts.” The study’s conclusion, and the recap by Huffington Post, leads to a divisive, rather than productive, discussion. What our sector really needs is a dialogue about how to understand the true value of a donation. Based on the Council’s experience with donors, we know that the decision to support a nonprofit comes from a place of true generosity. We ask our readers to move critically beyond the Huffington Post’s suggestion that ‘rich people give less’ and start focusing on how we can all work together give more, and more often.

The Chronicle study does make one positive conclusion well-worth celebrating – America’s middle class values charitable giving. We wonder: what is it about the middle class that leads this group to give a larger percentage its income? What then, can nonprofits do to cultivate this broad-based network of generous mid-level donors? While cultivating major donors is important, it’s also important for nonprofits to value all donations, at every level, in every category.

At the Council, a ‘donor’ is someone who dedicates his or her energy, time, skill, influence or dollars to a cause or issue. And next time a two dollar check, or any check, arrives in the mail, let’s all be sure to celebrate the loyal support and generosity behind each and every penny. It’s time to focus on building a new culture of philanthropy where we all strive to give more of our time, energy, and resources to make the world a better place.

And to all the two dollar, two hundred dollar and two thousand dollar donors out there: thank you for rallying around our causes in every way that you do!

By Keely Hendrickson, Marketing and Development Specialist

Friday, May 17, 2013

What’s a Sector Moment? Board Conflict, Governance Overhauls, and Big Social Questions

As we take our seats around the conference room table for our bi-weekly staff meeting, discussion immediately revolves around the treats in the center of the table (we can’t help it, we’re an office full of foodies!). Once we’ve dissected the latest gluten-free, dairy-free, no sugar added baked good, or the plumpest and ripest fruit you’ve ever seen, or whatever other exotic concoction has been invented this week, we get down to business.

About three items into the agenda is where arguably the most important discussion of the day takes place; the part most of us ‘save up’ for all week, jotting down experiences on our notepads and saving links in a designated email folder. Mission Moments and Sector Moments are times for mutual sharing, making our mission come to life through real, authentic experiences.

As you might guess, Mission Moments are examples of those experiences in our daily work that directly relate back to our mission – for example, a great donor phone conversation or constructive feedback from a nonprofit going through the Accountability Wizard. Setting a designated time and format for sharing these moments serves as a way for all of us to connect to the value of our work, and to learn from each other and from our constituents. 

Sector Moments, on the other hand, focus externally. These are examples of how our mission relates to the world – local stories about accountability and transparency, national nonprofit news, or trends and perspectives related to mobilizing informed donors and accountable nonprofits for the greater good. 

Today, we want to take our mutual sharing and learning to the next level by highlighting some of the latest sector moments that have sparked enlightening discussion around our conference room table: 

Harvard Business Review recently ran an article by Solange Charas, a consultant who went back to school to study the intricacies of board effectiveness. Her research revealed that boardroom discussion and conflict plays a powerful role in the level of organizational governance and board member attrition rates. Interestingly, casting a wide net and recruiting directors who didn’t previously know each other also contributed to high board effectiveness. 

N.Y. to Consider Nonprofit Governance Overhaul

On Tuesday, New York lawmakers proposed two bills to streamline the process of forming a nonprofit and improve board oversight of executive compensation and contracts. “Between the two sets of bills, there’s a better chance of having nonprofit reform than ever before,” said Sean Delany, a spokesman for the Nonprofit Coordinating Committee of New York and former assistant attorney general overseeing charities. “It’s a big deal.” Check out the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s article for more details.

Catherina Pharoah, for The Guardian, takes a close look at the UK’s giving landscape and whether or not philanthropy is really addressing pressing societal issues and challenges. Considering that the spending decisions of wealthy donors are private and entirely up to them, can a more just, inclusive, and innovative world be achieved through individual concerns and random acts of generosity? Pharoah poses many thought-provoking questions around the increasingly linked roles of philanthropy and business in addressing both local and global issues.

Sharing Sector Moments and Mission Moments allows us to take a step back from our busy days and look at our work from a broader perspective. What have you read lately? Does your organization set a designated time for sharing?

P.S. Don’t forget to register for our Annual Forum coming up on June 11! You don’t want to miss this opportunity to experience what it means to Dare to Fail on the Road to Discovery with best-selling author and keynote speaker, Peter Sims.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Taking Little Bets with Kris Kewitsch

The theme for this year’s Annual Forum is Dare to Fail on the Road to Discovery, inspired by keynote speaker Peter Sim’s best-selling book, ‘Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries’. With the event just a month away, Council executive director Kris Kewitsch took some time recently to reflect on taking risks, learning from failure, and the importance of making little bets.

Can you tell us about a time you took a risk and it didn’t work out? What did you learn? 

While with Target, I helped pilot a program that brings 25 pounds of food to every student at partner schools once a month to help ensure that kids get the nourishment they need to properly learn. The initial pilot found that the food selection caused families to not take full advantage of the program, as they didn’t know how to prepare some of the food items offered. We partnered with the University of Minnesota Extension program to provide recipes for the food being distributed each week, along with samples of each recipe.

Why is it important for donors and nonprofits to take ‘little bets’ together? 

Donors and nonprofits often have similar intentions when it comes to moving work forward, but each individual and organization brings different skills, expertise, or resources to the effort that must be encouraged and embraced. By taking the time to find new paths, ways to work, or things to improve upon, we have the chance to advance our goal of improving the community.

What advice would you have for young professionals about taking risks? 

Be creative, think outside the box, and don’t be afraid to ask. The other key piece is to listen and find those around you who have similar values to partner and collaborate with. 

You won’t want to miss this year’s Annual Forum where more than 300 nonprofit, philanthropic, business, and community leaders will come together to discuss how we can best work together and take risks to achieve collective impact. To register, visit or call 651-224-7030.